by Rachel O'Higgins
I have been working on an edition of the correspondence between my father, Alan Bush (1900-1995), and his teacher and friend, John Ireland (1879-1962). This book will be published by Ashgate Publishing Limited soon. This correspondence is part of a much larger collection of letters left by Alan Bush, along with the manuscripts of his music, to the Music Department of the British Library at his death in 1995. The collection as a whole covers a period from the late 1920s to the 1990s, and includes letters not only relating to Alan Bush's life, his work, and his many activities, but in itself provides useful material for social historians since it provides a vivid picture of the life of a British composer in the mid to late 20th century.
Printed biographical sources on the lives of the two men are limited. As regards John Ireland, published works include: John Longmire, John Ireland: Portrait of a Friend (1969), Muriel V. Searle, John Ireland: The Man and his Music (1970) and Fiona Richards, The Music of John Ireland (2000). As regards Alan Bush, there is a memoir by his wife, Nancy Bush, Alan Bush: Music, Politics and Life, with an essay on the music by Lewis Foreman (2000) and a Symposium, edited by Dr. Ronald Stevenson, Time Remembered. Alan Bush. An 80th Birthday Symposium (1981). Also, I am very glad to say that John Lowerson, Research Reader in History at the University of Sussex, has recently embarked on a biographical study of Bush.
I chose to edit the Bush-Ireland letters because I knew that John Ireland had had a long association with Bush lasting for forty years. Bush first encountered the music of John Ireland in 1921, when Ireland was already 42 years old. Then in 1922 Bush chose to study composition privately with Ireland for five years. From 1927, after he ceased to be a pupil of Ireland, Bush began to keep the letters he received from his former teacher and continued to do this until Ireland died. The letters number 160. One should, perhaps note that two-thirds of the letters that have survived are from Ireland. It is generally true that Ireland destroyed or failed to keep letters sent to him, but Bush kept all the letters he received from Ireland. With the exception of five letters in the possession of The John Ireland Trust, those letters from Bush that survive are typewritten copies of letters sent by Bush to Ireland.
Both men were prolific correspondents. Bush wrote to many of the leading British composers including Benjamin Britten, Rutland Boughton, Frank Bridge, Kaihosru Sorabji, Michael Tippett, William Walton and Vaughan Williams, as well as leading conductors, instrumentalists and other artists of his day. Most of these letters were focused on his music, and promoting his career as a concert pianist, conductor, teacher, and most important of all, as a composer.
Ireland also wrote extensively to many of his closest friends. These included his former pupil, John Longmire (1902-1986), the music critic Edwin Evans (1871-1945), former choirboys from St Luke's Church, Chelsea: Arthur Miller and Charles Markes, and of particular interest, his friend Rev. Kenneth Thompson (1904-1991). Ireland's letters to Thompson were often detailed and span the period 1936-1961, much the same period as the Bush-Ireland correspondence and also stand as a unique body of information on Ireland's life and music. But unlike the Bush-Ireland correspondence in which the letters tended to focus largely on the music they were composing, the daily concerns of two composers trying to make a living, the political situation and their views on other composers, the Ireland-Thompson letters were broad-ranging and open in manner, carrying references to religion and Ireland's sexuality. Ireland was a shy, retiring man, and only to Thompson did he reveal the more secret and intimate aspects of his life: his feeling for young boys and make references, some veiled and some explicit, to his homosexuality. Such private thoughts are almost entirely absent from the Bush-Ireland correspondence, but the letters are none the less interesting, however, for what they reveal about the lives and thoughts of these two men.
How did I approach the materials and treatment of them as an editor - what was my editorial approach?
First, I decided to number the letters chronologically, giving their precise location (almost all of them are to be found in the Alan Bush Collection in the British Library). This made sense as many of the letters follow on from one another. Another reason was that I divide the letters into three main periods (or chapters): the Inter-War Years, 1927-38; the Gathering Storm and War, 1939-1945; and the Post-War Years, 1946-61. I have given each chapter an introduction giving background information about the activities of the two men during the particular period.
At the foot of each letter, I note whether the letter was a holograph letter or typewritten, where it includes an enclosure. Where it is undated I provide a suggested date. For example, the letter which Ireland dated as 25 February 1927, clearly refers to 'the coronation piece', i.e. These Things Shall Be and references to 'the architect' who was making improvements to Gunter Grove at that time; I have given 1937, the correct year.
In the case of Ireland's letters, which are holograph letters for the most part, I have regularised the layout of the letters, but otherwise have transcribed them exactly as they are written. A few of Ireland's letters and all of Bush's letters are typed, which has made transcribing them easy. I have corrected obvious typing errors.
Ireland abbreviates 'would' and 'could' to 'wld' and 'cld' fairly consistently especially in the earlier letters. I have retained the punctuation and abbreviations as they appear in the original. Mis-spellings by Ireland, where they occur, have been left with an explanatory note.
Annotation. I have tried to strike a balance between two conflicting principles: (i) that notes should give only such information as is necessary to an understanding of points raised in the letters themselves, but (ii) that when not much is at present known of the personal and professional lives led by Bush and Ireland, I have given some details about the compositions mentioned in the letters, and how they were received on their first performance etc, often quoting from contemporary sources: i.e. reviews in newspapers and current journals
There are several main themes that emerge clearly from the Bush-Ireland Correspondence. The first and perhaps most significant of these themes is the close personal relationship that developed between the two men until Ireland died in 1962.
At the beginning in 1927, Ireland appears as the dominant partner, the established composer, well-known for over sixty songs, piano compositions and chamber works, as well as two orchestral works, Mai-Dun and The Forgotten Rite. Bush, still in his twenties and thirties, remained the admiring pupil. Ireland often discussed his current compositions and the reviews he got for their first performance, such as his Piano Concerto, which he had dedicated to Helen Perkin, his gifted young composition student, who gave the first performance. Ireland was equally concerned about the progress Bush was making in his recent compositions. A stern master, he nevertheless praised several of these early works. For example, Bush's Dialectic for String Quartet, Op.15 was mentioned several times and Ireland praised the work in December 1935, describing it as 'a very fine work of the highest concentration'.
Ireland sometimes enlisted Bush's help most notably with the preparation of These Things Shall Be (1936-37), a choral work commissioned by the BBC to celebrate the accession and coronation of King George VI in May 1937. Bush encouraged Ireland to accept the commission for 'the coronation piece'. However, because of the shortness of time, Ireland, who disliked orchestration, asked Bush to orchestrate the work for him, and the final copy used by Sir Adrian Boult at the first performance was in Bush's hand. Bush has given a graphic account of his collaboration in an article published in John Longmire's John Ireland: Portrait of a Friend.
Ireland, in his letters, showed himself concerned about Bush's welfare, such as in March 1933, when Bush was involved in what Ireland described as an 'alarming road accident'. The London taxi in which he was travelling from a visit to Ireland in Gunter Grove to St Pancras was involved in an accident and Bush woke up in a hospital ward with the taxi driver in the next bed. Fortunately, he was allowed home shortly afterwards.
Bush made frequent visits to Ireland's house in Gunter Grove all through the late 1920s and 1930s and often discussed his early compositions in the letters. Equally interesting, perhaps, was the fact that Bush, who first launched his musical career as a concert pianist, often included Ireland's piano compositions in his recitals, both in London and Berlin, and sought advice from his former teacher as to the interpretation of these works.
In 1926, a year before the letters began, Bush dedicated his Five Pieces for Violin, Viola, Cello, Clarinet and Horn, Op. 6 to Ireland. He also dedicated a further composition to Ireland, Two Ballads of the Sea, Op. 50, in 1958, a few years before Ireland died.
An important aspect of Bush's relationship with Ireland was that he was always aware of his good fortune in having Ireland as his teacher. This is apparent in many of his early letters to Ireland and he continued to admire him both as a musician and teacher throughout his life. In 1948, Bush published an elementary textbook on composition, Strict Counterpoint in Palestrina Style. A Practical Textbook. In a letter to Ireland in December 1948, Bush asked Ireland to write the Foreword, stating that the book provided 'the practical exercises for just such a course of counterpoint' that Bush had learnt from Ireland when he was first his pupil.
During the War, the correspondence continued, though more intermittently, and the balance of the relationship changed somewhat. Bush was now a colleague on equal terms with his former teacher. Ireland, in the early months of the war, had no permanent home. Ireland had spent the first months of the War in Guernsey and was reliant on Bush and his other friends for support. When he returned to England in June 1940 Ireland had nowhere to live as his home in Chelsea had been closed up on account of the dangers of living in London during the Blitz. He spent his first weeks in Radlett with Alan and Nancy Bush, then in 1941 moved to Banbury for about eighteen months and finally in 1942 he was offered a home by friends, the Rev. Walde and his wife in Saffron Walden, where he remained until the end of the war. By 1941, we see from the letters that Ireland was settled in Banbury and appeared more cheerful once again writing about his recent compositions. 1941 was a good year for Ireland - he completed his last major piano composition, Sarnia: an Island Sequence and was beginning work on his Epic March, commissioned by the BBC, as well as composing a number of shorter works. Ireland continued to take an interest in Bush's recent compositions, for example, Bush's Symphony No. 1 in C, Op. 21, declaring it was Bush's 'finest work' and 'towers head and shoulders' above other contemporary works.
Equally, Bush, in 1939 to 1941, kept Ireland informed about his performances of Ireland's Concertino Pastorale with the London String Orchestra, which Bush had recently formed, but confessed that for him 'composition was at a standstill'. From November 1941 until the end of 1945, Bush was in the army, in the Royal Army Medical Corps, stationed in Millbank Hospital, Chelsea, where he worked as an admissions clerk. The two men kept in touch and many of Ireland's letters from 1942 onwards included invitations to meet with Bush whenever it was possible.
In the Post-War Years, Bush emerged as the dominant partner in the relationship. Ireland's declining health meant that after 1951, he no longer could undertake BBC recitals of his chamber works and song-cycles, but his letters showed he continued to follow Bush's progress as a composer with considerable interest. In fact, it was Bush who from 1946 onwards entered into the most productive phase of his life as a composer with a series of important compositions, including his Christmas Cantata, The Winter Journey, a Violin Concerto, and his second Symphony, The Nottingham Symphony in 1949, which Ireland warmly praised claiming it to be 'a landmark in British music'. From 1949 onwards Bush embarked on the composition of a series of operas, the first of which, Wat Tyler, won an opera prize in the Arts Council Festival of Britain in 1951. We see from the correspondence that at this time although Bush was often away from Britain on conducting tours in Eastern Europe and in promoting his operas in Eastern Germany, he continued to be concerned about Ireland's failing health and recommended an army doctor he had met in Millbank, Lieutenant-Colonel Hargreaves, who treated Ireland over a period of years for his arterial sclerosis. Bush continued to visit Ireland whenever he could, but less frequently once Ireland moved from Gunter Grove to Rock Mill in Sussex in 1953. Even after Ireland's death, Bush continued to support efforts to promote his music. In the autumn of 1979, Bush took part in a series of BBC programmes of Ireland's music and again in November 1982, was featured with Ireland as the BBC's 'This Week's Composers', described as 'master and pupil'.
The second theme, which in a sense links up with the close relationship of the two men, concerns financial transactions between them particularly in the Inter-War period. Ireland came to be dependent financially on Bush in several ways. The letters do not disclose whether it was Ireland who first approached Bush for financial help, or whether Bush initially offered to help Ireland in this way. Whatever be the case, this financial dependence cannot but have had a considerable impact upon the relationship between the two men.
The third theme is that the letters provide a useful social document. We learn a great deal about the daily lives of two working composers, albeit one much younger and far less well-known than the other, and, in particular, the way in which they earned a living. This is especially true of the Inter-War period. There is some information about the daily routines the two men adopted and their sources of income before the existence of the Arts Council and other grant-giving bodies came into existence.
Ireland was an established composer in 1927, but he often complained about a lack of money in the letters. Although he resented the time earning a living teaching, examining and adjudicating at festivals and competitions, Ireland was realistic enough to know that he could not earn sufficient from his compositions alone.
What were the sources of income for Bush and Ireland? They earned their living primarily from teaching composition at the RAM and RCM respectively, examining for the Associated Board, adjudication at competitions and festivals, fees from broadcasting, commissions, fees from the PRS, royalties from published works, fees from incidental music for plays and from film scores (very occasional in the case of Ireland and rarely in the case of Bush), and Ireland earned a fee of £150 per annum for being the Chairman of the BBC Music Advisory Panel. Ireland had a small annual payment from his publisher, Boosey & Hawkes from 1938 to 1945, in return for giving them first refusal for any works he might compose. Ireland, also secured a small income from letting rooms in his house at Gunter Grove.
In the 1920s and 1930s, Ireland earned a considerable proportion of his income from teaching at the RCM. For example, in 1937-38, his best year, Ireland earned £324 before tax, around £14,600 today. Bush also taught at the RAM from September 1931 one day a week, once he had returned from his studies in Germany, but was paid at a much lower rate. Both men earned fees for examining for the Associated Board and adjudication at competitions and festivals.
Fees from BBC broadcasts were an important source of income for both men. For example, from 1938 onwards until the 1950s, Ireland earned a regular fee of 25 guineas, something in the region of £1,200 today, for broadcast recitals of his own chamber works. Bush was paid rather less; he received only 8 guineas for performing a broadcast recital of his chamber works and a fee of 10 guineas whenever he conducted his own orchestral works at Promenade Concerts. Furthermore, both men secured occasional commissions for works, often given by the BBC. Ireland's most significant commission during the 1930s was for These Things Shall Be (1936-37). Bush's most notable commission before the War was to compose the music for The Pageant of Labour (1934).
Fees from the Performing Right Society (PRS) must have been an important source of income, especially for Ireland, whose songs and piano compositions were often performed. We do know from PRS records that Bush earned £105 from PRS in 1938, something in the region of £4,000 today, and this rose to £265 by the time of Ireland's death in 1962. Ireland also must have earned considerable sums from the sale of sheet music, although during the War, he complained in a letter to Bush that much of his music was out of print.
From 1939 until the end of the War, both men suffered a severe loss in earnings. From 1939, Ireland ceased to be employed as a Professor of Composition at the RCM. However, although the BBC reduced the number of channels to two - the Home Service and the Forces programme, Ireland continued to get broadcast recitals of his works on a regular basis from 1940 onwards. His orchestral works, for example, These Things Shall Be and A London Overture, his most popular orchestral work, were performed at Promenade Concerts in 1943, 1944 and 1945 as well as broadcast regularly or performed in concerts all over the country. In 1942, Ireland did secure at least one commission from the BBC for a 'Patriotic March', which he entitled Epic March.
Bush was largely dependent on unearned income. From 1936 onwards, he lived largely on money inherited from his father's estate. Until he was called up into the army in November 1941, he continued his teaching at the RAM and he also taught evening classes at the LCC at the rate of 8 shillings an hour. Once he was called up, he was dependent on his army pay, which as a Private was not very much. Because Bush was based in London, he was able to accept a few commissions and engagements from the BBC. He secured two commissions from the BBC, one for a March based on two Soviet Songs, Russian Glory for Military Band, Op. 20 (1941), for which he was offered 10 guineas, and another for his Fantasia on Soviet Themes, Op. 24 (1942), for which he was offered 20 guineas. The Fantasia was much favoured by Sir Henry Wood. But all other sources of earned income had virtually ceased.
In the Post-War Years, Ireland continued to depend on his fees from broadcast recitals but his deteriorating health meant that he was forced to give this up after 1951. One of his final appearances was as part of the 1951 Festival of Britain, when he accompanied Peter Pears in a recital of his song-cycle, The Land of Lost Content, in May 1951. One major boost to his income was the composition of a film score for The Overlanders, composed in 1946. Writing to Bush in April 1946, Ireland claimed he had 'an excellent contract' for about 40 minutes of music. The exact sum was not disclosed, but Ireland suggested that although it was less than Walton's fee of £1500 for Henry V and Arthur Bliss's £2000 for The Shape of Things to Come it was clearly a substantial sum.
Neither Bush nor Ireland had much encouragement from the newly established BBC Third Programme. In the case of Bush there was one exception. Bush featured in the series Contemporary British Composers in early September 1947, with Dialectic performed by the Aeolian String Quartet and Lyric Interlude, Op.26, performed by Max Rostal (violin) and Alan Bush (piano).
Ireland continued to get regular performances of his orchestral works at Promenade Concerts almost every year until his death, notably his Piano Concerto, These Things Shall Be, his Overture, Satyricon and his earlier overture, A London Overture and The Forgotten Rite. He also enjoyed at the Promenade Concerts, a 70th Anniversary Concert in September 1949 and an 80th Anniversary Concert ten years later at which these works were featured. But we see from the correspondence and other sources that broadcasts of his piano works and chamber works took place more rarely especially in the years immediately before his death.
Bush was also finding it hard to build up his income in the years immediately after the War. Bush wanted to get contracts to compose film music and we know from the letters that he approached Ireland for assistance in this but Ireland replied he was unable to help him. Bush depended almost entirely on unearned income as, for example, in 1951, his earned income was only £300 - 1/10th of his unearned income, but this still would be around £5,800 today. Bush received three commissions. The first was in 1946 by the Alnwick Parish Church, Northumberland for The Winter Journey, Op.29, and the Alnwick Parish Church choir with other local choirs, conducted by the composer, gave the first performance in December 1946. There was a second commission in 1949 from the Nottingham Co-operative Society for The Nottingham Symphony, Op. 33 (1949) in honour of their quincentenary celebrations, and a third from the tenor, and friend of Benjamin Britten, Peter Pears, who commissioned Bush to compose a song-cycle in 1952, Voices of Prophets, Op. 41, a cantata for tenor and piano. Pears with Noel Mewton-Wood first performed the work at the Recital Room, at the Festival Hall in May 1953. In the 1950s and 1960s, Bush's operas were performed in Eastern Germany and this brought him a substantial income, but the money could not be taken out of Germany.
A fourth theme, linked to the previous theme, was the way the two composers helped each other in promoting their professional lives. Lack of outside help meant that Bush and Ireland had to actively help each other.
First, in relation to the BBC, Ireland, who was much favoured in the BBC in the 1920s and 1930s as a leading British composer, introduced Bush to important contacts in the BBC Music Department. Most important of these were Edward Clark, a specialist programme builder up to 1936, who was instrumental in getting Bush's early works broadcast from 1929 to 1936, and Kenneth Wright, a Music Executive from 1927, who promoted broadcasts of Bush's works from 1936 onwards.
Bush, for his part, took every opportunity to perform Ireland's music in public concerts. In the 1920s, he often included Ireland's piano music in his recitals. In 1932-33, with the formation of the RAM New Music Society, Bush, as a founder member, helped to secure the performance of Ireland's chamber music and songs in early concerts of the Society. Later, with his own orchestra, the London String Orchestra, Bush often performed Ireland's Concertino Pastorale. When Bush went on conducting tours in Eastern Europe in the years just after the War he included Ireland's orchestral works in his programmes.
In the Post-War Years, this policy of mutual help was even more noticeable. For example, Ireland was a member of the LCMC Reading Committee (the British Section of the ISCM) after the War. In January 1948, when Bush's Piers Plowman's Day, Op. 30 was being proposed for the forthcoming ISCM Festival, Bush believed that because Ireland was on the Committee, the work was seriously considered - in fact it was not performed at the Festival.
Bush was a member of the Music Advisory Committee of the British Council from 1946 for several years. From 1947 onwards Bush made repeated efforts to get the British Council to finance the recording of Ireland's orchestral works, notably Mai-Dun and The Forgotten Rite - Ireland seemed to expect it.
Bush was also a keen member of the newly-formed Composers' Guild and was elected Chairman for 1947 - 48. Formerly it had been part of the Society of Authors, Playwrights and Composers; until 1945, there was a Composers' section, under the chairmanship of Thomas Dunhill. Ireland supported the former situation and remained a member of the Society of Authors. Ireland and Bush had severe disagreements over the merits and role that the newly formed Composers' Guild should have. Ireland only agreed to join the Composers' Guild unwillingly.
The fifth theme was the political dimension - the views expressed by Ireland and Bush on politics. In their political outlook Bush and Ireland were very different, yet throughout their long friendship they respected each other's point of view.
Ireland was an old-style liberal, but never appeared to involve himself actively in politics, though he was concerned about the deteriorating international situation during the 1930s and the threat of another war.
Bush, on the other hand, after leaving the RAM as a student, began to take an active interest in world affairs and to discover the existence of left-wing political organizations. From 1924, Bush was a member of the Independent Labour Party, from which he resigned in 1929 and then joined the Labour Party. In 1935 he joined the British Communist Party and remained a paid-up member until he died in 1995. He also from 1925 became closely involved with left-wing musical groups, notably the London Labour Choral Union, and became its Musical Advisor in 1929. In 1936, Bush was a founder member of the Workers' Music Association, being appointed President in 1941.
How far can we say that Bush's political ideas had any influence on Ireland? In 1936, Ireland agreed at Bush's request to compose the music for a Peace Song, Ways of Peace, with words by Randall Swingler, the Communist poet, for the British Committee of the International Peace Campaign. More significant, perhaps, Ireland included a few bars of the Internationale in his choral work, These Things Shall Be. However, in 1938, Ireland declined to compose a further peace song with a text by Sylvia Townsend Warner, entitled The Mothers and the music was composed instead by Elizabeth Maconchy. But nothing came of this commission and there was no performance or publication.
During the War, Ireland appeared to be more receptive to Bush's political views. At the beginning of the War, Ireland wrote to Bush asking him to explain the reasons for the war. Bush clearly followed the official British Communist Party line and argued that the war need never have taken place, and Ireland appeared to agree with Bush's interpretation of events. In 1940, Ireland briefly became involved through Bush and his friend, John Longmire with the People's Convention, which Andy Croft, in his book, Comrade Heart. A Life of Randall Swingler (2003) suggests was sponsored by the British Communist Party and which was a kind of People's Front from below, designed in the first instance to remove the 'Men of Munich' from office. Among the signatories to the People's Convention were a large number of musicians, actors, film-makers and artists. Among the non-Party signatories were Alan Rawsthorne, Henry Moore, Rosamund Leymann, Edward Dent and Michael Redgrave. However, Ireland quickly withdrew his support and asked Bush to remove his name from all the Convention's publications.
The entry of the Soviet Union into the War on the side of the Allies following the invasion of the USSR by Germany in June 1941, led to a more obvious pro-Soviet stance by Ireland. For example, Ireland wrote to Bush in July 1941 that the British-Soviet Alliance, as announced by Winston Churchill in a speech to the House of Commons the same month, was 'a good thing' and also wrote warmly of 'the amazing resistance of the Red Army'.
In the Post-War Years, politics were much less of an issue and hardly mentioned in the correspondence. There are two exceptions to this. In 1947, Ireland was commissioned by the National Coal Board for the Miners' Festival at Harringay Stadium on 1 May 1948 to write a choral piece Man in his labour rejoiceth, with words by Robert Bridges. Fiona Richards suggests this work 'was a last burst of socialist sympathies on Ireland's part' (F. Richards, The Music of John Ireland, p. 238). In 1950, Ireland agreed to sign, at the bequest of Bush, a nation-wide Peace Petition, which had been launched by the British Peace Committee.
In conclusion, I think one can say that this correspondence illustrates the warm feelings Bush and Ireland had for each other, despite their very great differences of personality and outlook. Bush never wavered in his admiration and friendship towards his former teacher. Ireland, perhaps, made use of Bush in several ways but his letters to him reflect an appreciation of Bush as a composer and his affection for him as a friend. I hope that the publication of this book of correspondence will re-ignite interest in the works and life of these two remarkable men.
© 2006 Rachel O'Higgins Alan Bush Music Trust